How's your Czech, Bulgarian, Danish or Romanian? Everyone from taxi drivers to newsagents, restaurant staff to hot-dog vendors, will soon be finding out, as they attempt to do business with the 250,000 or so foreign fans visiting London, Birmingham, Nottingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Leeds and Newcastle.
How refreshing to think that the English are finally making an effort to be more accommodating of our European friends - even if we are praying they'll lose. Such is our commitment, however, to being hospitable that when I tried to join the London Welcome Host course I found it had been cancelled. Insistent on being educated in the finer cultural aspects of European communication, I signed up instead for a course in Birmingham.
I was greeted warmly by the trainer Sue Daly from the Heart of England Tourism Board and Mike Glover of the Birmingham Marketing Partnership. "Birmingham has spent 18 months planning for Euro '96 to ensure normal city life is disrupted as little as possible," explained Mike. And on reading the briefing notes for people involved in the event, they had clearly done their homework: "On match days, the `intelligence' we have received suggests it is likely that groups of visiting supporters will establish a base in the city centre which will be a bar/pub where they will meet every day before/after matches", it pointed out informatively.
However, as Mike said, with around 150 extra flights going in to Birmingham airport to bring in approximately 12,000 visitors to its four games at Villa Park, the Welcome Host course should be invaluable. Absolutely.
"Who else is coming on the course?" I asked. "Well, unfortunately Birmingham Council members have postponed because they're too busy," he said, "but four of West Midlands Police should be here."
I was introduced to another participant, Sara Pinner from the Birmingham Convention and Visitor Bureau. We got coffees. We waited. By 10 o'clock, it was evident that out of the several hundreds of thousands of people in the Midlands who will be coming into contact with European visitors over the next three weeks, only two (me and Sara), had the will to learn how to be Euro-friendly. We set to work.
First: languages. And one of the reasons Brummies may feel they can rest on their laurels became immediately apparent. Birmingham's games involve Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Scotland. So it should be plain sailing, no doubt with the multi-lingual Swiss and Dutch helping the Scots and Brummies brush up on their grammar and pronunciation.
Still, let's have a go at learning a bit of basic French and German, said Sue, in case there are some elderly, non English-speaking Swiss fans. Then we laboured over the Dutch glottal stop for a while, and were given a handy pocket-sized sheet of football-relevant translations in all 15 languages, (translations for "you're going home in a f****g ambulance," and "come on if you think you're hard enough" were unsurprisingly absent).
This was when I realised how much West Midlands Police were missing out by standing us up. When the Dutch are running riot at the end of the game, they won't have a clue how to shout: "Niet op het veld lopen, alstublieft!" (don't go on the pitch!), will they? Then they'll be sorry.
Actually, they won't. Because in the afternoon session when we learnt about cultural differences: we heard it's best not to speak Dutch to Dutch people as it's an insult to their English. West Midlands Police have got it easy.
Our next lesson was about not falling into the trap of cultural stereotyping. Not all tall, blonde, blue-eyed people are Scandinavians, it said in the "Where in the World" section of our 35 page Welcome Host exercise book. And just because someone's speaking say, German, it doesn't mean they are. Remember, they could be Namibian. Such are the legacies of colonialism.
Then, having been taught not to stereotype, we moved on to national characteristics. Or stereotypes. A skim through the National Information Sheets in our book revealed the different lifestyle habits of various nationalities. Extrapolating the information for Euro '96 relevance, I worked out that if anyone's going to be late for the games it'll be the Italians, who, it said are "bad timekeepers". Although the Germans, Swiss and Dutch could have problems here: although they are characterised as being excellent time-keepers, they are also used to excellent transport facilities. The French, I decided, probably won't get to the matches at all as they'll be too busy roaming around Marks & Spencer.
But if you see tired fans sitting wanly in shop doorways at the weekends, it could be any of the 15 visiting nationalities, as few of England's host cities will have foreign exchange facilities at the weekend, despite the tournament being sponsored by Midland Bank. Either that, or they're English fans suffering the consequences of the extended licensing hours.
Well, we learnt something about the Germans, Swiss, Dutch, French and Italians but what if, the visitors we choose to befriend turn out to be Russians, Croats or Bulgarians? How will we be able to communicate with them? "Don't worry," said Sue, "You'd be surprised - there are many non-verbal ways in which you can get your message across."
She's obviously been to a few football matches.Reuse content